Originally written on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 10/16/14
(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports) As Alabama gets set to begin an unprecedented third straight BCS title run this spring, one of the scariest realities for the rest of college football is this: Despite winning a second straight championship in 2012, the Crimson Tide were actually one of the youngest teams in the country last year. Alabama had just 12 seniors on their 2012 roster. Still, despite their relative inexperience, Alabama still has plenty of holes to fill this spring. A slew of underclassmen left town along with those departed seniors, leaving gaps in the defensive backfield, along the defensive line and most importantly, on the offensive line. And it’s on the offensive line, where our focus is today. After looking at other position battles across college football, we now turn our attention to Title Town USA, where the Crimson Tide must replace three All-American quality starters up front.    Background: When the first conversations about a second straight title came into play at this time last year, it was no secret that Alabama would only repeat if their vaunted offensive line could stay healthy and play up to their potential. Do that, and the Crimson Tide were a tried and true BCS title contender. If not, another championship probably wasn’t a realistic possibility. Well, reflecting back on the 2012 season, it’s safe to say that those who championed for Alabama’s offensive linemen looked pretty darn smart. Barrett Jones transitioned from left tackle to center, where he earned first-team All-SEC honors, and was joined on that list by left guard Chance Warmack and right guard D.J. Fluker too. Left tackle Cyrus Koundjio might actually have been more talented player on the entire line, and right guard Anthony Steen filled things out up front. And once the group did come together, they validated the hype and then some during the 2012 season. Incredibly, the unit didn’t lose a single start to injury, with all five guys mentioned above starting and completing all 14 games. In the process, they helped pave the way for two 1,000 yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon (the first freshman in school history to accomplish the feat), and helped the Tide finish 16th nationally in rushing yardage overall, at over 227 per game. However with the good is the bad, and after steamrolling the competition, Alabama has major holes to fill entering 2013. Jones graduated, and Fluker and Warmack are off early to the NFL. In their place is a group of talented, yet inexperienced replacements. Who’s leaving? D.J. Fluker (right tackle) Barrett Jones (center) Chance Warmack (left guard) Who’s replacing them? Ryan Kelly, redshirt sophomore (center) Arie Koundjio, redshirt junior (left guard) Brandon Greene, redshirt freshman (tackle) Chad Lindsay, redshirt junior (guard) Austin Shepard, redshirt junior (tackle) Kellen Williams, redshirt senior (guard) Leon Brown, junior college transfer (tackle) What’s happened this spring? Only at Alabama could the loss of Fluker, Jones and Warmack be tempered by good news like this: Yes, all three of those guys will likely be selected in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, yet the Crimson Tide still return their most talented player up front in tackle Cyrus Koudjio. Now entering just his third season of college football, Koundjio will very likely be a Top 10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. ‘Bama problems, huh? As for the rest of the line, well, Anthony Steen returns at one of the guard positions, but the other three spots are up for grabs. One appears to have been locked down by, ironically, Koundjio’s older brother Arie, who could start alongside Cyrus at left guard this spring. The elder Koundjio bounced back from a slew of injuries to be an important back-up last year, and should get starters reps in 2013. Ryan Kelly also appears to be in the driver’s seat at center. Meaning that the only truly open position appears to be at right tackle, where former three-star recruits Austin Shepard and Brandon Greene are competing for the open sports. Shepard appears to have the lead there. Kellen Williams and Chad Lindsey are also in the mix in a few spots, however both appear to be long-shots to earn starting jobs. What to expect heading into the fall? Frankly, not a whole lot of change. The simple truth is that unlike the skill positions, it seems unlikely that anyone from the 2013 recruiting class can step in and play right away, meaning that whoever comes out of spring ball as a starter will likely remain that way into fall camp.  Junior college offensive tackle Leon Brown, could possibly compete for an open job, but has yet to move ahead of any of the returnees.   Still, just because the depth chart is slowly getting figured out, it doesn’t put any less pressure on this group of players. The simple truth is that outside the offensive line everything else is pretty much in place. McCarron is back at quarterback, Amari Cooper has emerged as one of the top receivers in the SEC, not to mention the staggering depth at running back. And we all already know how talented the defense will be. That also means that like last year, Alabama’s title chances ultimately fall on the shoulders of the offensive line. Nobody expects them to reach the unreachable standard of the 2012 group. But they do need to get somewhere close if Alabama is to reach their ultimate goal in 2013. That goal of course is a National Championship. And it’s up to the offensive line to pave the way to get them there. For all his insight, analysis and opinion, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.
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